The Award Lifecycle

Finding a Call for Proposals

Locate Funding Opportunities

Once you have your idea and are ready to locate a funding opportunity, you can use the Finding Funding section of our website.  With the Core Databases that are available for searches, you can search on your keyword interests along with the type of project that you are interested in funding (such as research, equipment, travel, early career investigator) or the type of  funding source (federal, state, or non-profits such as foundations and health associations) you are seeking.


Access Guidelines

After locating a possible opportunity, confirm/determine that you and NIU are an eligible applicant and that your program interests match the sponsor’s priorities and interests as identified in the funding opportunity.

Access the complete guidelines on the agency website.  Guidelines usually include:

  • Agency priorities/themes—what areas they are interested in funding
  • Specifications for the narrative
  • Selection or Review Criteria the agency will use to score the proposal 
  • Formatting requirements that may include page limits, word count limits, margin & font size limitations
  • Budget information and requirements (e.g. cost sharing)
  • Deadlines and submission type (hard copy, email or other online system; postmark or receipt)

Types of Proposals

The following are various types of proposals that a sponsor may request as part of their funding guidelines:

Pre-proposal with Invitation to Submit – Some sponsors may require a pre-proposal to screen for potential proposals and to limit the total number of applicants for a given funding call.  After the review process, the sponsor will either invite you to submit a full proposal or notify you that your project is not invited to submit a full proposal.  The content for pre-proposals can vary significantly and can even include detailed budget information. Review the sponsor guidelines carefully. Contact your Research Development Specialist for assistance in submitting a pre-proposal. In many cases, institutional authorization is required to accompany the submission of the pre-proposal.   

Full proposal – Guidelines for full proposals will often require a full program narrative, detailed budget outlining proposed project costs, supplemental documents including biosketches and facilities statements, and standard forms to capture applicant and compliance information. A sponsor’s decision to fund the proposal will be based on the content and quality of the full proposal.

Letter of Inquiry - Some foundations still prefer a letter of inquiry.  If they do, they’ll indicate that on their website or in their funding materials.  In a letter of Inquiry to a foundation—you can pitch your idea, indicate why it’s innovative and why it fits beautifully within their priorities, etc. and if they’re interested in hearing more about it and possibly funding your project, they will  contact you to discuss your idea and to indicate the next steps for applying for funding. If they have a formal proposal process, they’ll provide you with the guidelines for preparing a proposal. 

Letters of Intent – A Letter of Intent may be required or sometimes just “encouraged.” Occasionally, after submitting a letter of intent, you may be contacted by a Program Officer to further discuss the content of your proposed work. Sometimes a Letter of Intent may simply be required for an agency to line up a sufficient number of Reviewers and Reviewers that have expertise in the areas represented in the Letters of Intent.  Other times it may simply be to gauge the number of applications that may be received under a funding call and to ensure adequate staffing.

Concept paper or White Paper - In general, a Concept paper or a White paper is requested under a broad agency announcement that is expected to address unclassified basic research. Refer to the sponsor guidelines for details. The required content of these papers often include: identification of the research and issues; proposed technical approaches; description of the potential impact on agency capabilities; explanation of your management plan; and an estimated budget.  In general, the paper should provide sufficient information for the research being proposed (e.g. hypothesis, theories, concepts, approaches, data measurements and analysis, etc.) to allow for an assessment by a technical expert.


Glossary of Types of Funding Solicitations

Sponsors issue various types of solicitations to announce funding opportunities and invite applications and proposals. Some common types of solicitations are defined as follows:

  • Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) -- commonly used by federal agencies to contract for basic and applied research and development within broadly defined areas of interest.
  • Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) or Program Announcement (PA) -- commonly used to announce a regularly recurring grant program.
  • Request for Applications (RFA) -- commonly used to announce a specific, more targeted program that will hold a single competition, generally resulting in a grant or cooperative agreement award.
  • Request for Proposals (RFP) -- usually used to solicit proposals to complete very specific work, as prescribed by the sponsoring agency, generally resulting in a contract. Cost is not always the overriding factor in this process, as proposals may also be evaluated in terms of investigator qualifications, research resources, and a number of other criteria.
  • Request for Quotations (RFQ) -- usually used to solicit statements of current prices for items to be procured, when price is the overriding factor. Funding generally results in a contract for a specified deliverable or product.